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Emotional protests mark first day of Florida's legislative session

5:43 PM, Mar 8, 2011   |    comments
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Tallahassee, Florida - Competing protests marked the first day of the spring legislative session at the state Capitol.

It was not the crowd of thousands that some had predicted, but several hundred Tea Party activists showed their support for Gov. Rick Scott and his mission to cut government spending, reduce the size of government and lower taxes.

They waved signs such as, "No Obamacare in Florida" and "Parasite pensions."  Scott and Republican lawmakers are leading an effort to reform Florida's pension system, which they argue is too generous for public employees.

Across the street from the Capitol, labor activists, teachers and public employees staged another protest against Gov. Scott's budget-cutting ideas.  They called it the "Awake the State" rally.

Teacher Jan Wright of Sarasota says she's angry about cuts to education, so she traveled to Tallahassee on her spring break to send a message against the governor's plan to cut education by $3 billion next year.

"We can't afford to run the schools on the money we have now.  We're running on a shoestring.  We have no additional room to cut.  We're already cutting out the arts.  My school does not have any music programs for students who are not in a specialized field and we're looking at cutting physical education and possibly arts classes, language classes.  We can't afford any more cuts."

Gov. Scott made an unannounced appearance at the Tea Party rally and he got a roaring ovation.  Scott told them he was fighting for less government and lower taxes.

"Are we changing the country?  You are doing it, showing up at things like this. You are changing the country because people are listening to what you're doing whether it's Wisconsin, or New Jersey or Ohio or Texas. You're changing the country."

Scott told the Tea Party members to make sure they pressure lawmakers to do what they were  elected to do.

"Less government, right? Lower taxes.  No high-speed rail.  It's your money.  We're going to follow the constitution.  We're going to watch spending like a hawk.  It's your money."

The line drew thunderous applause from the crowd, including Mary Bishop, who said she traveled from Ocala to show her support for the governor.

"He's taking all the heat and he's standing firm.  We need somebody who stands up for the values they believe in and doesn't go from one side to the other."

Lance King held up an anti-Tea Party sign reading, "Florida is drowning in tea."  He said he thinks state government has been taken over by conservative ideologues who don't understand the value of shared sacrifice for schools and infrastructure.

"This is the most undertaxed start in the nation practically.  For us to enjoy the quality of life that we've had up to this point, we're going to have to take a cold hard look at some point at taxes because we don't have the revenues to support this government." 

Dave Heller

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